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Athlete's foot is a common infection that affects the skin between the toes and soles of the feet.
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Athlete's foot is caused by fungus. Fungus thrives in warm, dark, moist places such as the inside of a shoe, locker rooms, showers, and swimming pool areas. The fungus can exist on a floor, mat, rug, shoe, or towel and transfer to your skin when your feet come in contact with them. You can also get athlete's foot if you come into contact with fungus on someone else's feet. The fungus can then grow on your skin if your feet or the area between your toes stays slightly wet.
Athlete's foot is more common in men. Other risk factors that increase your chance of athlete's foot:
- A history of athlete's foot infection
- Walking barefoot in locker rooms or public places
- Not keeping your feet clean and dry
- Wearing air-tight or poorly ventilated shoes or boots
- Sweaty feet
- Hot, humid weather
- Disorders of the immune system
Athlete's foot symptoms usually starts in the webbing between the toes. It may spread to the soles or arches of the feet, or to the toenails if the infection continues. Athlete's foot may cause:
- Dry skin
- Itching (with or without burning), which gets worse as the infection spreads
- A white, wet surface
- Blisters , which may open and become painful
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. An exam of your feet will be done. Your doctor may suspect that you have athlete's foot based on the exam. If necessary, your doctor may scrape a small sample from the infected skin and look at it under the microscope to confirm a diagnosis.
Treatment aims to get rid of the infection and prevent it from spreading to others. Treatment steps includes the following:
Take proper care of your feet:
- Gently wash your feet often (at least daily) with soap and water. Completely dry all areas, especially between the toes.
- Put a dusting of antifungal foot powder on your feet or in your shoes to absorb moisture.
- Change your shoes and socks frequently.
- Wash your hands after treating your feet.
To prevent spreading the infection to others, avoid walking barefoot in public, especially in locker rooms and public showers.
Athlete's foot can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications that are applied to the skin. If you have recurrent infections, or do not see improvement in 2 weeks, your doctor may prescribe other anti-fungal medication. Treatment may last 1-2 months. It is important to take medication as advised to completely rid yourself of the infection.
To help reduce your chance of athlete's foot:
- Wear shower shoes or sandals in locker rooms, public showers, and around swimming pools
- Keep your feet clean and dry, especially between your toes
- Wear shoes that are comfortable and allow your feet to breathe
- Wear cotton socks that pull moisture away from your skin
- Change socks regularly, especially if they become damp
- Do not borrow other people's shoes
- If you have diabetes, follow your doctor's instructions for taking care of your feet and get them examined regularly
American Academy of Dermatology
Foot Health Facts—American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Canadian Podiatric Medical Association
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Athletes' foot. American Podiatric Medical Association website. Available at: http://www.apma.org/files/ProductPDFs/Athlete%E2%80%99s%5FFoot.pdf. Accessed October 22, 2014.
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- Reviewer: David L. Horn, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 12/2014
- Update Date: 12/20/2014